Religious Studies | Religion, Ethics, and the Environment
R571 | 28121 | Sideris


This course assumes that religious perspectives are closely linked
to interpretations of nature, and vice versa. The specific form that
this relationship takes varies across religious traditions and
changes over time, often in response to new developments in science
or emerging ethical imperatives such as concerns about species
extinction, pollution, global warming, animal welfare. Thus, while
religions may be (and have been) charged with contributing to
destructive attitudes towards the natural world, they have also been
understood as a resource for developing better ethical relations
with nature and animals. Often, the most obvious connections between
religious perspectives and interpretations of nature are embedded in
creation myths and other stories and scriptures; these may reflect,
for example, a culture’s basic convictions about proper (and
improper) relationship between humans and animals, between humans
and the divine, the presence or absence of the divine in the natural
world. Therefore, in some cases (not all) we will look at what
religious accouts of how the world came into being and what human
responsibilities are for other forms of life. We will also look at
core ethical teachings of religions that may be relevant to nature.
In recent decades, for example, many religions have begun to
scrutinize their traditions in hopes of locating certain rituals,
beliefs, moral duties that can be applied not only to humans, but
also to nature as a whole. One of the issues we will consider in
this course is whether or not these ethical “extensions” to nature
are appropriate and workable as environmental ethics. In examining
the environmental potential of various religious traditions, we will
also compare and contrast religions and their worldviews. Our survey
of world religions will necessarily be incomplete but we will cover
a select group of religious traditions. Finally, we will also look
at some secular (nonreligious, or not explicitly religious)
perspectives, including animal rights, eco-activism, and
bioregionalism.